Packback - Where Will Your Curiosity Lead You?

Founded in 2012 at Illinois State University, Packback has long been committed to helping students get as much value as possible out of their college education. Students and professors have both been dealing with the effects of larger lecture hall sizes, skyrocketing tuition prices, the explosion of information available online, and changing trends in employment opportunities after graduation.

For students, the cost of a degree is at an all-time high, averaging between $40,000 and $120,000 for a four-year undergraduate degree. However, a degree alone no longer guarantee students a job after graduation. Students are desperate to understand how the information being learned in the classroom will apply to their life after graduation.

At the same time, professors are facing the challenges of managing increasingly large lecture halls ranging from several hundreds to over a thousand students. These enormous class sizes make it challenging to place a focus on in-class discussion and training students how to ask open-ended questions and seek out their own answers.

Typical online discussion presents unique challenges for already time-crunched professors in how to design an effective structure, how to moderate the community content, how to keep students engaged, and how to grade objectively (and easily) for their participation. Often, the the Learning Management Systems, or LMS, in use in most classrooms often offer 50+ features focused on the management of class, making them unable to specialize in managing discussion.

Packback Questions is a Q&A platform that specializes in the management of open-ended, student-led discussion for large lecture hall classes. The Packback platform’s design and curriculum is informed by Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognition, one of the most widely recognized academic frameworks for teaching and classifying a student’s thought processes based on their questions. In addition to the powerful discussion features within the platform, the Packback team provides Weekly Engagement Coaching (including posting reminders, in-platform coaching, and our digest emails containing the most curious posts from each community each week), moderation, deep analytics, and 365-day-per-year support.

For professors, Packback offloads the management of an online community from the professor, while increasing student engagement outside of class and supporting their students’ critical “soft skills” such as curiosity, conscientiousness and communication.

Professors working with Packback have embraced the simple, easy-to-use platform and the robust semester-long support provided by the Packback team.

“Packback has exceeded my expectations in every way. It’s intuitive for the students to use and it’s easy to peruse and participate in discussions…[and] hasn’t added to my workload, which I appreciate. What has surprised me the most are the quality of the questions the students are submitting. I’ve used LMS discussion boards but never with the level of success afforded by Packback.” - Jodi Hallsten-Lyzack, Communication Instructor, Illinois State University

For students, Packback is a safe environment for curiosity, where their questions and original thoughts are rewarded. In the words of Sir Ken Robbins, “You can't just give someone a creativity injection. You have to create an environment for curiosity and a way to encourage people and get the best out of them.”

Student feedback has also been extremely positive, with over 79% of students responding positively when asked if they believe that their professors should continue to use Packback. In a recent survey of Packback users, 91% felt that their professors’ choice to use Packback showed that their professor truly cared about supporting students’ curiosity. 72% of students responded that using Packback increased their level of curiosity around the subject they were studying.

“In a lecture of 120+ students, asking a question is intimidating. Packback allows for a student to ask any question at his or her leisure... when an answer is posted, a dialogue begins between the asker and the answerer, allowing for in-depth discussions of topics." - Packback student user, University of Toledo

To support the growth of Packback Questions and the rapid growth of the Packback platform, their team has grown to include 24 people, including heavy investment in top-notch engineering talent, university outreach and product support. The growth of their team has been supported by a purpose- and values-driven culture; a culture which has flourished in the new Packback office in South Loop, Chicago. Packback has continued to invest in their culture, after being mentored by several other values-driven Chicago companies, including ContextMedia, where Packback was incubated for a year.

Product development continues on the Packback Questions platform. Currently under research is a proprietary “Curiosity Algorithm” to objectively measure students’ curiosity, by studying the composition of the best posts on Packback to determine the quality of new questions being posted.

As a learning organization that lives by its own purpose of awakening fearless, relentless curiosity, Packback seeks to build the industry-leading platform for curiosity and student engagement by continuing to learn from the students using our platform and real-time feedback from professor partners.

For further context around the purpose that drives Packback, please watch Packback cofounder Jessica Tenuta’s TEDx talk, “The World is Changed by Those Brave Enough to Question It”.

For any additional information, please contact:

Matt Vari

Strategy Consultant, Packback


P. 773-414-5015

#technology #innovation #startup

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